Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Lying as Political Technology: A Very Depressing Post

To give this post a little personal context, I used to run a blog called "Fuck Truth:", and I tend to cringe when people talk about science as though it's "black and white [with] right answers and wrong answers". Regardless of the arena, I've almost never found truth or its younger sibling objectivity to be all that useful in building a healthy picture of a situation. It's not that a reliance on truth is wrong, exactly, just a little silly. Our use of the concept usually has more to do with intention and effect than fact, and is more closely related to faith or expectation than reality.

Especially in politics. It's not news that people who push a right-wing agenda "lie" regularly and successfully about pretty much anything that will serve their interests. Lying works. It's just politics: Democrats lie too, and often (though it can be a little harder to get away with lying to liberals). It's so effective that you've gotta wonder whether human beings actually like being lied to. Whatever the reason, though, that's just the way things are.

And yet, I was still shocked by Palin's speech at the convention, as well as by the conduct of the McCain campaign and Republican operatives since. McCain and Palin are running on quite precisely what they are not, and overtly and repeatedly lying about verifiable aspects of their records and Obama's positions.

Not that the convention bullshitting was limited to Palin, of course. Mitt Romney mocked Al Gore for flying around in a private jet while pretending to save the environment – a private jet that does not actually exist. The video played during Victoria Blackstone's speech about honoring the flag used actors, not real soldiers, to recreate a state funeral (as with most of the rest of the convention images, the footage was purchased from Getty). And Guiliani remarked that Obama is "the least experienced candidate for president of the United States in at least the last 100 years", which is false no matter how you measure experience.

But McCain and Palin are way beyond little funny lies like those. Normally, as Phil Gentry notes, politics isn't about anything that can be verified or labeled as true or false. Neither "reformer" nor "maverick" nor "change," for example, are ideas that need much of a basis in actions or facts – you say them, and they sound good, and that's basically the end of it.

Except that Palin's candidacy seems increasingly based on her supposed rejection of the funds for the "Bridge to Nowhere." They keep repeating it, touting her campaign against earmarks as though she's the first person to want government funds to be fairly distributed. Really, though, it's a lie deserving of the name. It's not even close to true: she pushed for the bridge initially, backed off when it became too infamous to attach her name to, and then kept the money for similar projects when it was finally rejected.

She's being called on it too, all across the media spectrum. From TPM:
The McCain camp has made her signature issue shutting down the Bridge to Nowhere. But as The New Republic put it today that's just "a naked lie." And pretty much the same thing has been written today in Newsweek, the Washington Post, the AP, the Wall Street Journal. Yesterday even Fox's Chris Wallace called out Rick Davis on it.

The evidence, if you're the sort to go for evidence, is pretty damning. There's video of Palin encouraging the pursuit of federal aid, a note congratulating her staff on a successful haul, even a photo of her holding up a "Ketchikan is not nowhere" t-shirt:

The thing is, it probably doesn't matter. One of the Obama campaign's newest ads features some of that "evidence" and their latest email was about Palin's "Lies to Nowhere," but non-indoctrinated people tend to believe the thing they hear first, particularly when it's less complicated. We can try to brand McCain and Palin as liars, and it could well hurt their credibility with some voters. But probably not. To quote the the ever astute Atrios, "At this point even Republicans all know it's full of shit, but they don't care. It pisses off liberals! And that's really all they care about."

Or as Hunter puts in a Daily Kos diary,
There is absolutely no penalty for lying, in politics. None. Zip. Nada. Sarah Palin could stand atop a stage and declare herself moon-goddess of Endor, and it wouldn't make a bit of difference. Yes, the papers would correct her. There would be a few cable stories on how there was no prior record of her being declared a moon-goddess. In the end, however, it would not matter, and it would not matter because Republicans have decided that it does not. For Republicans, there is no longer any moral taboo whatsoever against lying outright. The only relevant question is whether the lie is effective -- not whether it should have been done in the first place.

So what of it, if Sarah Palin says crooked things with a straight face? Name me one Republican who will object. Name me one -- just ONE -- diehard conservative who will be angry at the lie, instead of praising her for it. To hell with facts, there is another election to be won....

[Y]ou would be hard pressed to find even a single, lone Republican in Washington willing to buck the moral collapse of their own party. Such people once existed: they were voted out of office. All that remain are "mavericks" like McCain, figures who will countermand every previous belief in order to regain the support of his own party.

So be it, then. In a way, it's more honest – politics really is about manipulation, after all, and that wouldn't change even if everyone had complete information about the candidates. But really, though, this isn't about honesty or truth or lies or reality. It's about basic respect. Forcing the nation to have these basic disputes about its candidates demonstrates a contempt that borders on hatred.

And facing that level of disrespect is so tiring that making the argument that people should pay enough attention to vote gets harder and harder every election. There's no way out but out: the only real solution is to stay as far away from politics as possible. At some point, the apathetic become correct – and I can't help but worry that that time is now.

But please. Please, prove me wrong.

PS: Anyone else think it's creepy as all hell that the new face of McCain donations is the "McCain/Palin Compliance Fund"? What the hell is with that party?


  1. Wow, a general nonchalance regarding what's a fact and what's fucking baloney... that sounds almost like the typical creationist rhetoric. Oh wait, that's right, Sarah Palin is a typical creationist.

    Really though, to someone who thinks humans magically appeared here 4000yrs ago with a population of two - despite OVERWHELMING evidence to the contrary - it shouldn't be difficult to just pretend that the world works however the fuck she says it does.

    She's got the idiot vote sealed now for sure.

  2. i still think palin may end up being mccains downfall. hes increasingly being shoved to the side by people supporting or attacking her, which is going to be a problem as more and more of the initial pro-palin positions become completely undefendable.

    this is where biden can redeem himself: finesse his attacks so that it doesnt get played as the bully picking on the smart girl, and keep on pointing out how she has yet to tell the truth on any subject. ever.

  3. this is where biden can redeem himself: finesse his attacks so that it doesnt get played as the bully picking on the smart girl, and keep on pointing out how she has yet to tell the truth on any subject. ever.

    It's funny, I actually woke up from restless sleep at 7:00 this morning (alarm set for 9:00) thinking about that debate, then rolled over and slept soundly for another two hours. If he can tone down the bullying, as you say, that debate is gonna rule balls.

    (Also, maybe I'm takin' this all a little too seriously.)